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Singer-songwriter-satirist Randy Rainbow — yes, that's his real name — has built a fervent YouTube fan base by churning out parody videos on politics and current events, from the "Grease"-themed "GOP Dropout" as the field of Republican presidential candidates narrowed in 2016, to the "Sound of Music" spoof "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Korea?"
He's known for his biting lyrics, and his glitz — sequined pink glasses, glittering jackets, props. But it might come as a surprise that the place where the internet magic is made isn't a high-tech studio, but rather the second bedroom in his Queens, New York, apartment, with a desk, green screen, microphone and his cat.
"What did you expect," he asks with irony. "I'm just a boy with a dream from Queens.
"Just a queen from Queens."
The walls in the proverbial "room where it happens" are covered with Broadway posters and props from his latest videos.
"It's crazy," he says about the work he's done there — and also about the reaction he's gotten: the millions of YouTube and Facebook followers, the sold-out shows and the letters he's received from people like Hillary Clinton and legendary Broadway lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
But he quickly adds that a letter does not inoculate someone from being lampooned.
"No one is off-limits," he says.
His framed letter from Sondheim is from 2015, when Rainbow was doing a web series on Broadway World. These days, he says Sondheim will write to him and say, "That last video was so clever, how do you come up with your lyrics?"
"And I always write back and say, 'Steve, you wouldn't understand. I have a gift, and I'm not about to explain it to you,' " Rainbow says. "It's crazy for me because Stephen Sondheim is of course the Lord. I grew up idolizing him, as I still do. 'Into the Woods,' 'Sweeney Todd' — those were my religion."
"I'm a human person, so I do have some sort of compassion for even the people I'm mocking. But at the end of the day, I'm the little guy taking on the big guy."Randy Rainbow
Among the props in the room is the pith helmet Rainbow wore when he inserted himself into a video with Melania Trump when she was visiting Africa. He says statements like Trump's that she is "the most bullied person in the world" are a "gift from the comedy gods."
"I'm a human person, so I do have some sort of compassion for even the people I'm mocking," he says. "But at the end of the day, I'm the little guy taking on the big guy. That to me is not bullying. That's satire. At the end of the day, she's going to survive my little song parody."
Rainbow says he's not a political junkie. He describes himself as a "show queen," and says hearing positive feedback from Broadway greats is "everything to me."
"That to me is so amazing, that all these people have jumped off my high-school wall and are coming into my life," he says. "I've heard from Audra McDonald, Alan Cumming, I've heard from Andrew Lloyd Webber ... Kristin Chenoweth. All of my idols are showing up in my life now. These are all the people who inspired me to do everything that I do."
Rainbow says he's still a little surprised by the trajectory of his career, which started in a cruise-ship bar called the Mermaid Lounge after he dropped out of college — a job he says lasted "about 10 minutes." His next move was to New York, where he was a receptionist at a Broadway production firm.
He says he got "so bored doing those jobs" that he started writing behind the reception desk. That resulted in a blog, which became videos — then he added music.
Rainbow jokes that he finds his followers in unlikely places. He recently released a video parodying ex-Trump adviser Omarosa Manigault-Newman that was three minutes and 43 seconds long. Within three minutes and 46 seconds, he says, Newman was following him on Twitter.
Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, also became a fan and follower after Rainbow mentioned him in a video.
Rainbow turns to the equipment in the room and explains how he creates his videos — singing in front of a green screen and then using his home computer to marry the video and the soundtrack to create the final product. While he says he doesn't mind doing it in this low-budget way, he admits that "big people" are approaching him with various offers.
"I want to keep it my thing. I'd love to have a run in New York," he says. "I would love to have a TV show. So, hopefully we're headed in that direction.
"Whatever I do, I hope to retain that kind of DIY, home-made kind of charm."
This segment aired on November 27, 2018.
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